Ethan Phillips: The Vatican Museum

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Ethan Phillips ’19 is an Economics & History Studies Major.

“It is now housed in the Vatican Museum”

This phrase can be found on the bottom of object descriptions from locations across Rome or spouting from the lips of our various tour guides. During our three weeks in Rome we made dozens of visits to sites across the city that represent a variety of different time periods, both ancient and renaissance, and this phrase came up at almost EVERY SINGLE ONE!! The Vatican Museum must be STACKED, I thought.  With each time I heard it, or read it in our text, the anticipation for our trip to the Vatican brewed. Finally, after three weeks of traveling around Rome, the time had arrived for our trip to this renowned place.

On the way, Vatican Museum promoters, located across the city, shouted at us “This way to the Vatican,” “Need directions to the Vatican,” and my favorite “Wrong way to the Vatican Museum.” We meet up with our tour guide out front, go through something like airport security, and are on our way into the museum. I felt ready, but was truly unprepared for the extravagant showing I was about to receive.


This picture is the first thing that must be understood about the Vatican, it is absolutely CRAMMED FULL OF ART!! This picture is of a room that you pass by early on in the museum, is not accessible, and contains at least 30 sculptures. The room behind it almost surly contains more of the same. You learn early on that you are not going to be able to see everything and you have to be okay with that. The reason for this is that 150 feet down the hallway you start to get the BIG MONEY items, for example…

Here I am standing next to the LAOCOON!!! The real Laocoon! The same one that I have seen on PowerPoint slides in numerous classes. And I will tell you that it looks even better in person…

Alas, it was time to continue forward and find out what else this fantastical place had to offer. We continue on through the clutter of famous works, produced by artists you know from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, until we reach another that I simply can’t help myself but write about. This time I knew it was coming, and it is a personal favorite of mine, The School of Athens, by Raphael.

This fresco is another that I have gazed upon countless times in history classes when learning about ancient philosophy (shout-out Professor Davies). I love this fresco, and getting to see it in person was one of my favorite experiences from my entire trip to Italy. I got a little behind the group after staying to look at this bad boy for just a little too long and had to rush through exhibits until I caught up with them in the Sistine Chapel.

I have no pictures for this one because they are not allowed. I saw this policy in action when the women in front of me took a picture with her phone and was quickly berated by a security guard before being escorted from the building, missing the chance to view the frescos that envelop the walls. It was a risk I simply couldn’t take. The Chapel was another instance of a product that I have seen in a classroom setting not only living up to my expectations but exceeding them. The place was beautiful, and I understand why they choose the Pope in this location, it is magical. We stood in the room together for about a half hour before it was our time to leave and everyone’s neck was sore from staring.

And so ends our tour of the Vatican Museum. The museum, and the class overall, has taught me many things, possible the most important is that you need to get out and see things. Learning about things that interest you in the classroom setting is a privilege, but there is real value in going out and seeing them in person. As the director of IES (or Italian school hosts) told us at the end of a guest lecture, use your twenties to go and see what you’re passionate about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *